By on June 26, 2009

The August issue of Consumer Reports has started to arrive in subscribers’ mailboxes and features a review of the 2010 Honda Insight Hybrid. Guess what. They concurred with Michael Karesh and panned it, citing the lack of oomph, room, and refinement. CR didn’t like the original 2-seat Insight, either, citing the lack of oomph, room, and refinement, but at least it got 65+ mpg.

The 5-door Insight got 38 mpg on CR‘s test loop, little better than the Civic Hybrid’s 37 mpg and behind the outgoing base Prius (44 mpg) and Prius Touring (42 mpg). The points final tally of 54/100 final score was hardly Fit and dangerously close to the Dodge Caliber 48/100, a car unanimously felt to need a stimulus package. By comparison, the larger Civic Hybrid scored 72/100, the base outgoing (2009) Prius 68/100, and the Prius Touring 80/100 points. (Talk about grading on a curve: the 14 points gained by the Prius Touring are due to slightly wider/stickier tires, stiffer suspension, and a bigger rear spoiler.) US Insight sales have been disappointing and Honda recently scaled back their sales projections. As Consumer Reports is influential with the non-enthusiast car crowd, one wonders if Honda had advance notice of CR‘s review.

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36 Comments on “Consumer Reports Finds Little Insight in Honda’s Latest Hybrid...”


  • avatar
    Jason

    Ouch. Rare to see Honda trip and fall on it’s face, in regard to a new small car of any kind.

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    Honda doesn’t have advanced notice.

    For all the griping about CR’s review style, they are completely independent: No advertising, and they BUY their cars from dealers anonymously.

  • avatar
    ajla

    As Consumer Reports is influential with the non-enthusiast car crowd, one wonders Honda had advance notice of CR’s review.

    Although a 54/100 road test score is bad, don’t people mostly use CR’s reliability and depreciation scores when making their purchase decisions, rather than the road test scores?

    As long as the Insight gets red circles for those categories, I would guess this won’t hurt too bad.

  • avatar
    mocktard

    CR’s reviews aren’t for enthusiasts, they’re for consumers of appliances. Which is perfect for most people.

  • avatar

    I take CR pretty seriously in the reliability dept, and I spend a fair amount of time with the annual auto issue. Their test track is very hilly and windy (I’ve driven it), makes most twisties you’ve ever driven on seem tame by comparison, and although they write for consumers of appliances, I think the car people there are enthusiastic about cars.

    As someone who owns, likes, and identifies to some degree with Hondas, I’m chagrined that the Insight didn’t do better. But then I’m also chagrined that the Accord has porked out, and that they discontinued the Integer, which is the Honda I’d most like to own, and that the Acuras are all fat. And that they haven’t done an RWD. And… well, that’s enough for now. I do love my ’99 Accord.

  • avatar

    I read Consumer Reports to get another view on a car. Their reviews offer a different angle than the buff books and websites do.

    They are also straight shooters and get right to the point. They said that while they thought the Insight would have good reliability they could not recommend it because it performed so poorly.

    They also don’t get caught up in model hype. While most publications lavished praise on the Chrysler 300 Consumer Reports gave it a mediocre write-up…look how that turned out in the long run.

    Don’t get me wrong their methods are not great when it comes to reviewing certain products. I would never buy a car or a camera based on just their reviews, but where else can you find out who makes the best washer and dryer.

  • avatar
    grog

    I’m an enthusiastic and decades-long subscriber to CR. They’re another data point. They have their own very strong biases (hmmmmmm) which provide another angle on a car.

    Years ago when they did stereo speaker reviews, the “enthusiasts” (aka audiophiles) would say “read what they recommend and do the opposite” and yet, I have an outstanding pair of Allison speakers today that most of my audiophile friends would kill for, all cuz of CR.

    That being said, their pooter reviews are appallingly poor.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Although a 54/100 road test score is bad, don’t people mostly use CR’s reliability and depreciation scores when making their purchase decisions, rather than the road test scores?

    No, not at all, and especially since it’s the road-test scores that are more prominent.

    If CR calls a car out for being a poor performer, it means the vehicle has failed, badly, at it’s core mission. It means, truly, that for the category it’s a bad car and they don’t recommend it.

    Put it this way: a VW Passat may only get average reliability, but the actual car is really, really nice and CR is quite upfront about it. The Chevy Impala is reliable, but flat-out sucks to own. CR, believe it or not, will recommend the Passat and not the Impala.

    Or otherwise: would you buy a shitty but reliable blender? A washing machine that doesn’t get your clothes clean but runs for decades without a blip? A lawn mower that never breaks down, but weighs two hundred pounds and doesn’t cut anything more ambitious than inch-high bluegrass?

  • avatar
    twotone

    A transportation appliance as reviewed by a domestic product magazine.

    Twotone

  • avatar
    grog

    psarhjinian:

    Good point, particularly using the Passat as an example. I remember CR raving about the 99 Passat and now they list it as a used car to avoid. It’s an example of how their weighting system and biases need to be understood when looking at a car as problematic as a Passat. If reliability is king to a prospective buyer, then they should understand that in CR’s view, other aspects of the Passat overcome the problematic nature of it’s long term reliability.

    Here’s an interesting factoid: people here who discount or dismiss CR share that little characteristic with favorite TTAC whipping boy Warren Brown.

  • avatar
    superbadd75

    I wondered what the point of the Insight was myself, especially once it came to light that it wouldn’t fare much better than the Civic Hybrid in real world mileage. I’m sure Honda spent an awful lot of money developing this car, to see it flop right out of the box is disappointing. It might actually work out if they can either get the price down (unlikely), or somehow get the fuel economy up a bit. Really though, Toyota is kicking everyone’s ass in the hybrid race.

  • avatar

    A few weeks back, my good lady spotted a parked Insight and said “Oh, do Honda make the Prius now ?”. I was more surprised that she could spot the difference between a Honda badge and a Toyota badge than she couldn’t spot the difference between an Insight and a Prius. The name “Prius” is now almost synonymous with “hybrid” (see the recent TTAC editorial ‘The truth about hybrids’ to see how people use the two interchangeably) which is a massive marketing hill Honda had to climb just to get on level footing with Toyota.

    The Insight had to be special in every single way in order to take some wind out of the Prius’ sails (and sales), but the only unique selling point it has is initial cost to own. Honda have made some brilliant cars in their time (I owned an Integra for 8 trouble free years) but the Insight doesn’t appear to be one of them.

  • avatar
    mikey

    @grog…..Yeah I fit the mold. I consider Warren Brown insightfull and accurate. Maybe he might be considered by some as being anti import,pro domestic. I still found his stuff to be a good read.

    As far as CR goes,I wouldn’t use it to wrap my garbage.I always kind’a liked Hondas,the best of the imports imho.If I had to buy an import it would be a Honda. Now that CR has beat em up,I like em even more.

  • avatar
    noreserve

    CR is one of the few sources I trust for unbiased information on products. There are a lot of haters, particularly on the car forums where everyone thinks they have only robots in their employ doing evals and that they should only stick to washing machines. I think they do a good job of getting the point across in the most concise, no BS manner possible. The fact that they don’t accept advertising and buy their vehicles anonymously shows how seriously they take integrity in what they do.

    No import/Honda bias in that review of the Insight. Further proof of CR’s unbiased information. That vehicle looks to be a huge mistake for Honda.

  • avatar
    ronin

    grog is right that they provide another data point. To me they present a minor data point. This goes back to the late 80s when they panned the Taurus but loved the Sable.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    “they BUY their cars from dealers anonymously.”

    After the 25th time they have gone into the same dealer with a corporate check, you might think the dealers would catch on.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    This goes back to the late 80s when they panned the Taurus but loved the Sable.

    They did no such thing. People have said this over and over about different models of car, and I’ve gone back over past issues, and CR has never done so. They have, to clarify, never rated two rebadges (Taurus/Sable, Fusion/Milan, Cavalier/Sunfire) built at the same plant significantly differently.

    They have rated rebadges built at different plants differently (Vibe/Matrix), and continue to do so.

  • avatar
    ravenchris

    The people who don’t do their homework before making a purchase lower product quality for everyone. Harshly criticizing CR is best left to the village idiots.

  • avatar

    When did they ever pan the Taurus but love the Sable. The only thing similar I could recall was when the ’96 redesigns rolled out. The Taurus was below average in reliability, but the Sable, curiously, was average. So they recommended the Sable but not the Taurus.

  • avatar
    tparkit

    Jason writes: “Ouch. Rare to see Honda trip and fall on it’s face, in regard to a new small car of any kind.”

    I’m the happy owner of a Honda, but the company has often surprised me with their missteps. The Element is full of design shortcomings, and in its first year was shipped with (among other sins) a rubber floor covering that tended to come unstuck. It doesn’t even have a bumper strip to protect the door.

    The exterior of the new Accord is a hodge-podge of styling cribbed from other, mostly Japanese carmakers, rendering it undistinguished. The interior is off-putting. The dash on the current-generation Civic ditched the very effective analog gauges in favor of a digital readout that seems functional only as a design statement.

    Then there’s the on-demand four-wheel drive, which one reviewer called “too-late all-wheel drive”. I imagine this boneheaded fault has sold more than a few Subarus.

    Then there’s the new Fit. Brilliantly executed – except for the Sport model, which forces too many compromises on the driver in exchange for too little gain and too much $$$.

    IMO, Honda needs to figure out how these worrisome incidents of serial stupidity crept into their otherwise excellent company.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    I subscribed to CR for a while a few years ago, and got to wondering how many Corvette owners they had canvassed. So I wrote and asked them how many; and also how many car owners in general had to contribute information before they would make a column of circles for that model year rather than “insufficient data”. I didn’t get an answer.

  • avatar
    zaitcev

    Unfortunately, the new Accord is the ONLY car in which I’m comfortable. Amazing, isn’t it. I bump against the headliner in Camry, and barely fit into Fusion (the car for fat, not tall people). I guess I’m a hostage to SUVs and CUVs for the rest of my life if things go as they are. Either that, or an Accord. Honda sure found a little crevice in the marketplace to exploit…

    As for Insight, they sure bump hard against Toyota’s patents, and the no-pumping VTEC mode can only get them so far. Might as well consider a Volt-like drivetrain, or even grovel on their bellies in front of Toyota.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    …The people who don’t do their homework before making a purchase lower product quality for everyone. Harshly criticizing CR is best left to the village idiots…

    No, just harshly criticizing CR just for the sake of it is fools work. However, hammering their car reviews because they often miss the mark and treat vehicles the same way they treat chunky peanut butter is damn good reason to be highly suspcious of their reviews.

    Regarding the poster above about CR’s reviews about audio equipment: I recall those reviews from yesteryear and they helped me form my anti CR bias. All of my friends/family asked me about stereos back then. Never did I trot out CR – Audio magazine was da bomb!! Any magazine that gave Realistic equipment high marks wasn’t even suitable to catch my African Grey’s droppings…

  • avatar
    CarnotCycle

    It’s too bad. There is some interesting hybrid tech in the Honda. The variable camshaft-setup in the motor is really weird. From what I understand, its only an 8-valve motor. Reason being is the space it takes for the special cam mechanism.

    Special cam mechanism can shift into a mode that keeps all the valves closed. Computer closes the valves when the motor is not running but geared to the powertrain. Reduces lost work by eliminating pumping losses (no compression because no air in the cylinder). Sounds like it was too big of a trade by ruining the breathing on the motor from what I hear. And of course the rubber-band tranny ends all hopes…

  • avatar

    CR’s minimum sample size is 100, which is adequate for an overall reliability score but not for the system-level scores.

    I was a member of a panel at an audio engineering conference recently. A few years ago (I can’t recall how many), one of the other panel members proved CR’s old testing methods to be so unsound that they adopted his methods.

    The surveys and the road tests are conducted by different groups. I personally think that the road tests are very well done, but that the surveys leave a lot to desired. Like everything else in life, CR is neither all bad or all good.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    “Harshly criticizing CR is best left to the village idiots.”

    I remember the highly recommended bottle of sherry that was undrinkable.

    There were also the fancy headphones whose drivers blew out within the first 30 minutes.

    They are human and they have their strong points and their weak points.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    “As Consumer Reports is influential with the non-enthusiast car crowd, one wonders if Honda had advance notice of CR’s review.”

    Do you have any evidence for your slander? According to all published information, CR buys their vehicles at retail outlets without involvement by the mfgs. Over the years mfgs. have occasionally tried to use good CR reviews in their advertising, and have gotten shot down aggressively by CR every time. I would be shocked if CR gave Honda advanced notice of the Insight review. Why would they?

  • avatar
    thoots

    Park this thing beside the Accord V6 Hybrid in the “Honda Just Doesn’t Get Hybrids” garage. 38 MPG for a penalty-box hybrid? What a waste of development dollars!

  • avatar
    Edward Niedermeyer

    I’ll go to bat for CR. Their call for a turbo SX4 is a great example of enthusiast activism.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    @John Horner: I just thought it interesting coincidence that the Bloomberg report preceded my copy of the August 2009 CR by 10 days. As for advance knowledge of a CR review, here’s the example that surprised me when upon reading it, as I didn’t think CR did this:

    Alan Mullaly flew to CR’s CT testing grounds in Feb 2007 and got an earful about the then-new Ford Edge as well as the rest of the lineup. The review went to print a few months later. IIRC CR’s complaints in the BW article were all echoed in the Edge review; I recycle the back issues after a year and am too cheap to subscribe to CR.org.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    I really like the Insight, and wonder if Honda could de-hybridize it. Take the drivetrain from the Civic Si (or, even better, the s2000) and rip out all the batteries and stuff. Widen the tires and upgrade the interior a bit.

    Then we’d have a fun to drive car that seats 4 and gets 35 mpg. What more could you want?

  • avatar
    shaker

    “Then we’d have a fun to drive car that seats 4 and gets 35 mpg. What more could you want?”

    The Fit? ;-)

    I subscribe to CR, and my only problem is that they have to buy the cars from the dealer, which means that they test well after most magazines – patience is a virtue, I guess.

  • avatar
    ceipower

    Honda could do beter.In place of new and better tech , the Insights selling point is “Hey , it’s cheaper than a Prius.”
    In the days when Mr. Honda was still at the helm this would have never happened. Honda may not be the next GM , but the people who are running Honda seem content to take Honda in that direction. Marketing seems to have a greater say than engineering, and sadly the marketing department has a lousy record for producing hits. I’ve seen it creep into all Honda products over the last decade.They want to be precieved as the Honda of old , but the products can no longer back that up.At what point does it all hit the fan?

  • avatar
    Gary Numan

    SherbornSean

    I completely agree. I have not yet driven the new Insight but have sat in one and feel that it should be a Civic and have the Civic powertrain along with some real carpet and the sunroof option. I like the size and hatchback functionality and dare I say it…..I like the shape and design of it. Put some cool wheels and meatier tires on it and they’d have something….plus of course price it right.

    We had a 2002 Civic EX sedan / auto and it returned impressive mpg, typically between 36 and 41 on road trips. Why couldn’t a standard engine format placed into the new Insight acquire about the same?

  • avatar
    poohbah

    I have a 2002 Civic 5-speed and can hit 40+ MPG when driven lightly (like the hybrid drivers do). The Insight seems to be pointless IMO.

  • avatar
    jaje

    IIRC the Insights interior including seat fabric is from plant and other sustainable resources. Whereas the Prius and the normal cars interiors and seating surfaces from petroleum based sources and the leather from animal skins. It maybe not the same texture they love but the car is more than just a car with a hybrid drivetrain thrown in.

    Honda’s hybrid drivetrain is much cheaper to build (yet it doesn’t deliver the mileage) so they need to cut the price even further to properly compete with the Prius. Toyota has this market cornered and it seems Honda has lost its Mojo and can’t seem to find it.

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